DURBAN - Digitisation of the agricultural industry was creating solutions that were fast becoming integral in farming practices with potential to improve the industry’s economic impact.
Standard Bank’s Head of Agribusiness Nico Groenewald said that precision farming, which refers to modern farming practices that make production more efficient, combined with larger and more effective planting and farming equipment, has made it possible to cultivate land more efficiently than before.
“While agriculture technology (agritech) solutions are available to farmers, affordability is often a stumbling block. For example, this sophisticated equipment is likely to be out of reach for the average-sized grain operation as a sizeable capital investment is required,” said Groenewald.
He added that technology was an ever evolving space and differed greatly from one farming activity to another.
Groenewald said that it was important that as the digitisation of agriculture continued, farmers were forced to adapt to new practices and ways of thinking to stay competitive.
“That said, there are more economical digital technologies available to smaller scale farmers. These solutions don’t require expensive equipment and can be applied in areas such as yield estimation, growth monitoring, soil fertility, crop stress, disease detection and weather forecasting.”
Standard Bank Agribusiness said agricultural productivity was inherently unpredictable as the industry was to weather patterns or biological processes, which, if unfavourable, could impact growing conditions and crop production. The unit said it was critical to produce crops of the right quality and quantity to achieve successful farming. This needed farmers to have appropriate systems and infrastructure in place to best manage the demands of their crops.
“Technological systems such as remote sensing have made significant impact in this regard. With this application, farmers can gather data that enables them to monitor crops and identify problems ahead of time,” said Groeenewald.
He added that beyond that data could be recorded and arranged into a system so that farmers were able to make informed decisions around crops and future strategies for growing.
This kind of information could also be used to justify support from financial institutions as it provided an independent view of the business that lenders and insurers can reference when considering financing solutions for the farmer.
To respond to the continued spike in the uptake of agritech solutions, the Standard Bank Group has committed to preparing its farming clients for a digital future by investing in innovative solutions that would deliver enhanced data through remote sensing and digital agronomy to allow farmers and their agronomists, whose role was to increase soil and crop productivity, to take better decisions in everyday farming life.
“Standard Bank’s satellite-based remote sensing innovation is delivered in partnership with UK-based RHIZA and backed by Origin Enterprises Plc and the European Space Agency.
For the mobile and desktop, the financial institution has availed Contour, a digital platform with precision farming tools that assisted farmers to better understand the health of their crops. Standard Bank also offered GRID, which could monitor crop performance on an aggregated basis across regions making it possible to track a portfolio in terms of total hectares and total tonnes expected which is useful information to buyer groups.
Standard Bank Agribusiness said investing in technology could enable farmers to increase production, reduce costs and streamline activity across the entire agricultural value chain to help ensure that long-term food security was maintained. “The choice of available technologies ranging from sensors to drones to GPS positioning systems is growing incrementally.
It is important that farmers look at offerings and adopt those most appropriate to their needs.”
Groenewald warned that the danger of technology lay in becoming overwhelmed by the vast quantity of information available and not using it to its best advantage. He said care must be taken to integrate technologies on a farm, so they that they were value-adding tools that worked towards common objective-improving farming methods and outputs.
“Investing in technology is not only beneficial to large-scale commercial farmers but smallholder farmers who can become more competitive. The onus is on farmers to identify what data they need and to locate the correct people to assist them with the implementation of technology that is twinned with these requirements.”
Standard Bank Agribusiness said the good news was that the cost of agricultural technology is dropping as it becomes more widely used. Groenewald said the accepted technologies have not been left behind in the agricultural race. “An example is a solar power that is still a ‘staple' on farms located far from formal electricity supplies, or farms where a constant amount of electricity is crucial to maintaining operations. Installations have become simpler, panels more robust and lighter and batteries more useful and reliable.”
He added that the industry saw new leaps forward and improvement in technology from the storage, irrigation, weather management, soil sampling, mechanisation and crop optimisation aspects of the sector on a daily basis.